One for All and All for One
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Shavu'os, the holiday on which we commemorate G-d's giving of the Torah
to the nation of Israel, begins this year at sunset on May 16, 2002.
The giving of the Torah to the nation of Israel in effect changed the
spiritual "status" of the people. We know from Talmudic and Medrashic
sources that our forefathers adhered to the precepts contained in the
Torah, even though they had not yet been commanded to do such. Once the
Torah was given, however, the nation was obliged to follow all of the
commandments contained within. There are a number of commentators who liken
this transformation to the conversion process. Prior to the giving of the
Torah, the members of the nation of Israel were not "Jews," so to
speak. There was nothing specific that constituted a distinct Jewish faith.
Yes, the people believed in the One and Only G-d. They saw vividly how He
rescued them from slavery in Egypt. However, that belief was the sum and
substance of the faith until the Torah was given. However, once the Torah
was given, the nation was not merely the nation of Israel; they became the
People of the Book, full-fledged Jews who followed all contained in the Torah.
There are two aspects of this pivotal event in the history of the nation of
Israel that warrant attention. The Torah, when describing the encampment of
the nation by Mt. Sinai prior to the giving of the Torah, alludes to the
fact there was a spirit of unity that permeated the entire nation. The
nation was like "one man, with one heart." The nation was unified, and
brotherly love was abundant. Furthermore, the nation was united in purpose.
The nation stated, "All that G-d says, we will do and we will hear."
The nation expressed their willingness to abandon their individual wants,
desires, beliefs and practices for that which G-d was to command them. They
committed themselves to the Torah unequivivally and unconditionally, and
with that commitment they had to suppress their individual proclivities.
The nation demonstrated self-sacrifice, evidenced by their devotion to G-d
and His Torah at a time when all may not have been logically clear or
Unity in spirit and a suppression of individuality were not only a part of
the "conversion" process at the time of the giving of the Torah. The
book of Rus (Ruth) is read on Shavu'os as it illustrates that Rus
demonstrated these two attributes as part of her conversion process as
well. After Rus and her sister-in-law Orpah had lost their respective
husbands and were left destitute, their widowed mother-in-law Naomi tried
to convince them to return to their homelands. Orpah did just that. Rus,
however, clung to her mother-in-law. The book of Rus writes ‚Äúthe two of
them walked together. They walked together with a unity of purpose and a
dedication to the service G-d. Rus clearly abandoned the faith of her
upbringing in favor of the faith of her mother-in-law. The book of Rus
highlights the fact that Rus, in her acceptance of the Torah, was totally
united with her mother-in-law, who had lived a life of Torah from birth.
Furthermore, Rus had to withhold her personal feelings, and practice
something different from that which she thought she should. Rus grew up in
a society steeped in immorality. Once she joined Naomi, it was clear that
she had rejected that way of life. When she went to gather food from the
field of Naomi's relative Boaz, Boaz noticed her because of the high
degree of modesty with which she conducted herself. Yet, Naomi told Rus
that she should go to the field of Boaz dressed attractively and perfumed,
in the evening, and even be by Boaz's side. These were actions that Rus
thought she had abandoned. These were the ways of her homeland, she
thought, not of the faith that she now wanted to call her own. Yet Naomi,
Rus' mentor and instructor, told her that this is how she was to conduct
herself at this time. Naomi understood that this had to happen, that this
was part and parcel of Rus' entry into the nation of Israel. Rus
suppressed her own gut feelings that Naomi's instructions were wrong and
not in accordance with Torah ideals, and followed her teacher. Of course,
we know the outcome. Rus ended up becoming the wife of Boaz. Their
descendant was King David. Rus followed the instructions of one whom she
knew was totally dedicated to the Torah and its ideals, even when it did
not appear clear that it was so. Rus showed that she was able to suppress
her own personal feelings when it came to following someone who was
instructing her in the way of the Torah.
Shavu'os is the time when we are given the opportunity to reaccept the
Torah with the same zeal and vigor as originally. We, in our personal
acceptance of the Torah, should emulate the nation of Israel when encamped
at Mt. Sinai, and Rus as well. Especially in these precarious times, our
unity as a nation, united in the service of G-d with unwavering devotion to
Him and His Torah, is crucial to our survival. May we all merit to
celebrate the receipt of the Torah as a united nation in an Israel that
knows only peace.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.